Features / coronavirus

How to safely reopen your coffee shop during Covid

By callum parsons, Monday Jun 22, 2020

There is certainly plenty of information circulating on what the future may look like for the hospitality industry going forward and much speculation about when coffee shops will be allowed to expand on takeaway, and reopen their doors in a meaningful way.

We had heard rumours of a possible early reopening of some parts of the hospitality industry, to take place on June 22 but this was quickly quashed and business secretary, Alok Sharma, has now announced that the government is reverting to its aim of July 4 at the earliest.

Although we may have no affirmative date set in stone (is anything set in stone anymore?), the general consensus in the coffee shop industry is to be ready for the 4th. And we are in good company! According to the latest weekly Hospitality Leaders Poll by MCA Insight/HIM, more than three quarters of restaurants, bars and pubs will be set to reopen on July 4.

But it’s not all sunshine and roses once we get the official go-ahead. There is much anticipation surrounding customer confidence, hygiene processes, social distancing rules and maximum capacity limits. And even if all of that does go to plan, can coffee shops even generate enough turnover with all these restrictions in place?

This question has led to growing calls for a reduction in Britain’s two-metre social distancing rule in order to allow a higher capacity of customers to be served in hospitality environments. This is being widely debated at the moment, and some are looking to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) guidance on maintaining a one-metre social distance to be applied (as it has been in other countries including France and Denmark).

With no clear government advice (as of yet) as to what the reopening of coffee shops will look like, we have explored all available resources in order to put some handy tips together. Hopefully we can help summarise the current information out there to make it a little easier for you to best predict and plan over the coming weeks.

Farro Bakery is just one of the businesses forced to adapt during the coronavirus crisis – photo by Martin Booth

Consolidated top tips for reopening your coffee shop or cafe during Covid

PPE & CLEANING

– Wear masks or face coverings as much as possible for the safety of yourself, the team and customers
Although the current government advice states that “wearing a face covering is optional and is not required by law, including in the workplace” (Working safely during coronavirus), perception is king, and if customers see the measures that you and the team are taking they will feel more confident to visit and to come back.

Along with this, the WHO has now changed its advice on face masks, advising that they be worn in public places where social distancing may be hard. We have even seen visors starting to be used in coffee shops, these may be more comfortable for staff and easier to communicate through.

If your team will be wearing masks, teach them how to remove, store and reuse (if not single-use) them correctly. Check out this video on how to remove masks correctly.

– Consider gloves – but be careful!
Although not a legal requirement some businesses are now implementing a glove-use policy when handling food and drink. However, you must remember to change gloves as much as you would wash your hands, and wash your hands every time you do so. It may be more efficient not to wear gloves at all, as it has been reported in the Independent that they can give ‘a false sense of security’ and washing your hands is a better precautionary measure.

– Provide hand sanitiser near the staff food & drink areas
Alongside this, encourage staff to wash their hands regularly. The government advises allowing employees regular breaks to wash their hands for 20 seconds at a time.

– Consider physical splash barriers
Although not essential, the government advises to look at implementing physical splash barriers between employees and customers in order to decrease staff anxiety and help maintain social distancing.

Is it feasible for you to add a physical screen to protect yourself, your team and your customers at the ordering point? You can also take payment through the protective screening to reduce any physical contact.

– Cover up all food either behind perspex or in glass showcases
If you have limited space, put one display cake out for the customer to see and keep the rest behind the counter out of reach. Those extra precautions make customers feel safer, and exposed foods are less likely to be bought in the current conditions.

– Laminate menus and wipe down after each customer
Quick, easy and does the job.

– Ask customers to drop any used napkins into a dedicated bin
The more they do to help keep your shop clean, the safer you and the team will feel.

– Remove hydration stations inside
If someone wants water they will let you know

– Taking tips
Tips are certainly great and well deserved. You may be feeling more uncomfortable with taking coins for the moment so perhaps check if your EPOS can add tips on or check out this nifty bit of tech, We are Tip Jar. Otherwise, simply use a tip box for the customer to use and leave the money in it for at least a few days since last used before opening and handling.

TEAM CHATS
– At risk individuals
Talk with your team. Is there anyone at risk or do they live with someone who is at risk and needs shielding from any potential exposure?

– Talk through Covid measures
Take your team through each protective measure that you’re taking, explain why you have chosen to do this and how you can all work together to keep the measures working as smoothly as possible. Also, be sure that your team are all aware to refrain from working if they do show any symptoms.

It always helps to get your team’s input – ask them to flag up any issues (or potential issues) they see or any concerns that they may have whilst working.

SPACE & SIGNAGE
– Utilise outdoor space if you have it
If you have access to a garden or any front space utilise it! Think of how to maximise your tables and chairs so that you can fit customers safely. It’s better to have lots of tables in sets of two’s so you can combine for larger groups if needed.

Summer is coming so thankfully we don’t need to think about heaters, but think about those short sharp showers. Do you have the ability to add a quick and efficient canopy? Act outside as you would inside with solid hygiene practices.

– Look to ‘create’ outside space if you don’t have any…
If you don’t have any outside space in your current setup – can you get local council permission to put some benches and small side tables out the front of your shop?

If there was ever an opportunity to receive extra support now will be the time to ask. If you have a neighbour who is a different business (for example a hairdresser or a retail business) ask them if you can support one another, give them a few coffees and perhaps they will let you put a few extra seats outside their business. If they’re an evening trade business and you’re a daytime perhaps try and share some outside seating and the upkeep.

– Keep doors open when possible
Who doesn’t love fresh air? Open windows and doors frequently to encourage ventilation where possible.

– Space out your tables and create a one-way system if possible
Do your best to section your space as much as possible with good flow and try to design it into a one-way system if at all possible. It may be a good time to find another temporary home for any large awkward tables and bring in smaller tables for two people. This way you can move them around or push them together as and when needed.

– Customer signage
Consider signs around the coffee shop to let customers know not to enter the premises if they are experiencing symptoms. Any additional signage you can provide will all be helpful so that customers understand the service flow e.g. floor stickers and one-way signage.

If the Government applies similar guidance as it has for non-essential retailers, you may need to display a poster to show employees and customers that you have followed the official Government guidance. You can see this poster for non-essential retailers here.

Even some outside areas in Bristol have been made one-way, not that many people pay attention to these signs on Cathedral Walk in the Harbourside – photo by Martin Booth

SERVICE FLOW & QUEUING
– Can you mark a safe queuing system outside?
Make a clear and easy to follow queuing system, try your best to not block other shops, make life difficult for other pedestrians and of course try to keep some distance between the queue and any outside customers you may have.

If you want to keep takeaway customers outside of the shop we have seen wireless doorbells and a designated takeaway waiting area complete with a menu. Customers simply read the menu and when they’re ready they hit the doorbell and you can come out to take the order using contactless payment.

– Can you develop a nice flow in and out of your shop or make some waiting areas?
If you’re lucky enough to have a large space think of how you can separate those dining in and those waiting for a takeaway. If you’re struggling, look at the system above utilising a wireless doorbell and outdoor space – it’s a really nifty trick!

ORDERING & SERVICE
– Can you use apps to take orders?
Embracing modern technology is a surefire way to make life easier. With digital menus, seamless ordering and payment collecting tools it’s a great way to reduce contact and make your customers feel safe. We don’t have any alliances with the following options but they come recommended – Presto, Yoello, Zonal and Tevalis.

Also, check with your current EPOS provider to see if they have any options that you can add on. These can be premium options but they will certainly streamline your whole business. Another benefit of this approach is that “mobile ordering has been proven to increase spend-per-head by 10-30%” (Kurve Mobile Ordering). This is certainly helpful in these times!

– Should you look into taking table bookings and turnover times?
Can you control numbers in your coffee shop better with bookings and suggested turnover times? Not only to help keep customers flowing, but also allowing them to feel confident that they’re not going to be in a potentially crowded environment. It will also help you know what’s coming up so that you can staff accordingly.

– Can you take orders at tables to stop people walking around your shop?
This may well be announced as a mandatory practice for reopening, but either way, reducing people meandering around your coffee shop is certainly going to help customers and your team feel more comfortable. If you want to speed up ordering, just put a little number next to each menu item and jot that down when taking the order.

Can you simplify your menu to make service faster, more casual and easier for any potential customers who may want to take food home?

– Can you add a pickup or local delivery service?
Can you offer the ability for customers to order hot food/drinks to takeaway and set an ETA of when it will be ready? A company that we have personally used as customers when buying from local shops, and comes well recommended is Slerp. This is a great streamlined system, but does take a percentage of the sale. Another idea is to look at offering local delivery services to reduce contact with customers.

– Contactless payments
It goes without saying – it’s quick, easy and physically contact free. You can also take contactless payments through perspex or acrylic screens for that added safety. If the customer needs to use their pin, then just give it a courtesy wipe with sanitiser. Those extra steps will be remembered!

If you are able to, it may be an idea to only accept card payments so that your team members are not having to handle any cash. If you do so, provide signage so that this is clear to the customer.

Convoy Espresso opened in the Paintworks as card-only – photo: Convoy Espresso

– Staff to add milk/sugar to coffees to keep it off of tables
Ask the customer if they need any extra sugar, milk etc. It’s just another measure to reduce contact and handling of items.

– Do you have the wall space for a few large menus?
Stop table menus all together and just put that good old eyesight to the test!

– Keep condiments/cutlery off tables
This is just another measure to keep contact and handling of items down. It may be an idea to look at individually wrapped sauces and condiments that your team could hand out if requested. If you serve food, you may want to bring out cutlery with the customer’s food order rather than leaving them on the table or allowing them to help themselves. Whilst not with the customer, keep the clean cutlery in a covered container behind the bar/counter area.

– Reusable cups
You can still use reusable cups (with a contact-free process) to keep costs down on takeaway cups and maintain your eco-friendly values by doing the following:

Have a dedicated space on the front bar where the customer can place their reusable cups
Ask your customer to remove the lid and ask them to hold on to it
Pour the espresso into a jug and steam the milk as you normally would
If the customer has requested sugar, just pour the espresso over it so that it dissolves
Pour the espresso into the customer’s cup without touching the cup
Pour the hot milk into the customer’s cup again without touching it (accept that latte art is not going to happen)
The customer can now pick up the cup and put the lid on themselves

Keep an eye on the retailers
Non-essential retailers have been given the go-ahead to reopen in a couple of days’ time (Monday 15th June), and we can already see the efforts taken by the larger retailers to make the environment as safe as possible for customers and staff.

Retailers have reported, among other methods; an introduction of one-way flow systems with floor markings, customer signage to remind staff and customers to maintain social distancing, plastic shields at the tills, plastic visors for staff and dedicated hand sanitiser stations.

It will be helpful for us to keep an eye on, and learn from the social distancing regulations and methods used in this sector in order to be in the best position for reopening.

Shout about it
Be proud of the extra efforts you are going to in order to make your space safer for both your team and your customers! Highlight your safety measures on social media and it will drive more customers to you.

We have seen a great response to added safety measures already from coffee shops who are currently open for takeaways. They have seen increases in volume and some have even reported record days!

Taking this opportunity to showcase your offer and convert new customers to your business, whilst keeping everyone’s safety at front of mind could be key to thriving and not just surviving in the current Covid climate.

Callum Parsons is the co-founder of Fire & Flow coffee roasters. He is an award-winning coffee enthusiast, who has consulted on hundreds of coffee shops, hotels, restaurants and food service management groups to help them create a leading coffee experience.

Main photo: Society Cafe have recently opened as takeaway only – photo by Martin Booth

Read more: How can cafes, pubs, bars and restaurants safely reopen?

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